Thailand has seen abundant love and reverence since the death of His Majesty King Bhumibol. On Tuesday, some 40 days later, the military government of Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha led civil servants nationwide in performing activities which included pledging oaths of loyalty to all kings of the Chakri Dynasty – past and future – and singing the royal anthem.
For some, love and reverence is a performance that must be repeatedly displayed to prove one’s love and reverence to others. Love and reverence which requires repeated performance is essentially insecure and fragile, however.
Weeks ago, the military regime vowed to seek the extradition from abroad all Thais who criticized the late king or the monarchy. A month has passed and no one has yet been extradited, partly due to the fact that most countries in the West, including France where some have been granted asylum, do not recognize lese majeste as a crime.
The reason why the military government is still very vocally vowing to have these two dozen or so people extradited to Thailand has become a performance for the sake of the domestic audience of royalists and ultra-royalists to reinforce the military’s claim to leadership in loving and revering the monarchy.
By vocally pursuing these anti-monarchists, the regime inadvertently contradicted it own oft-repeated claim that all Thais love and revere the monarchy without exception.
Any shade or nuance between those who totally love and revere the monarchy and those who oppose the institution often gets buried in repeated performance of loyalty, however.
Take a recent example of lawyer Karom Polpornklang who made a police complaint claiming that Orapim Raksaphol, aka Best, a well-paid young motivation speaker have allegedly defamed people of the northeastern region by accusing them of not loving the late King.
It is as if to not love the king is worse than being a criminal and no one except those now already in exile would be willing to acknowledge that publicly.
From my personal experience, there are Thais who neither love nor revere the monarchy and are critical if not hateful of the institution. There are also Thais who are simply indifferent to it. Due to the draconian lese majeste law, they simply have to hide their true feelings if asked to say something publicly, however.
Unless one is ready to live in exile for the rest of his or her life, or risk being imprisoned, it is not constructive to admit to being anti-monarchist.
In a climate where being an anti-monarchist is worse than being a rapist, and where everyone publicly says everyone loves the late king, truth and honesty are casualties, along with subtle nuance.
Thammasat University law lecturer Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, for example, was recently attacked verbally for having simply suggested at a symposium in Paris that the lese majeste law no longer protects the late king because, as written, it only protects the reigning king, queen, heir apparent and regent. Some have accused Piyabutr of tipping people who want to attack the late king.
The meta-narrative, or meta-script is that all Thais love and revere the king and anyone straying from the script will be regarded as un-Thai and must be prosecuted, or brought back for punishment if they live abroad.
In a free and open society, Thailand would be able to accommodate people who are not emotionally attached to the king, people who are against the draconian lese majeste law, and people who are against the monarchy as a person or institution. The current climate dictates that you must either love and revere the king (Good People) or you must definitely hate the monarchy and be anti-monarchist (Bad People), however.
Anything in between, any nuance and shade that exists, have been purged at the price of truth and honesty.